MANILA: Maoist rebels waging a decades-old insurgency in the Philippines expressed high hopes for peace Monday before talks in Norway next week, with guerrilla leaders set to be freed within days.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who won a landslide election victory in May, is seeking a political settlement to one of Asia’s longest insurgencies which has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1969.
Five previous presidents had failed in that objective, and the process appeared to sour on July 30 after Duterte cancelled a days-old unilateral ceasefire when a rebel ambush killed a government militia member and wounded four others.
“In general the relationship between the revolutionary movement and Duterte is excellent… glitches like these can be fixed through peaceful dialogue,” chief rebel negotiator Luis Jalandoni told Agence France-Presse by telephone.
Jalandoni, speaking from exile in the Netherlands, is to meet Philippine government officials in Oslo on August 22 for five days of talks, during which he said both sides are expected to agree to declare unilateral ceasefires.
Norway has offered to be an intermediary in the long-running peace efforts.
The rebels also want to discuss the crafting of a general amnesty proclamation by Duterte covering all 550 detained members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing the New People’s Army.
The rebel army is believed to have fewer than 4,000 gunmen, down from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s, according to the military.
But it retains support among the deeply poor in rural areas, and its forces regularly kill police or troops while extorting money from local businesses.
As a goodwill gesture, the new government has withdrawn its longstanding opposition to bail petitions filed in court by 18 detained top guerrilla leaders, including the alleged party chiefs Benito Tiamzon and wife Wilma Tiamzon.
All 18 are expected to be freed from Manila prisons this week so they can fly to Oslo to help out in the negotiations as “consultants” to a Jalandoni-led alliance of leftist groups, the National Democratic Front.
Benigno Aquino 3rd, the president before Duterte, shelved peace talks in 2013 after rejecting the front’s demand that he free all imprisoned guerrillas.
With ceasefires in place, Jalandoni said the two parties could work on crafting reforms to address the roots of the conflict. AFP